Woods cites 'perfect storm' of obstacles to success

By Rex HoggardJuly 28, 2015, 8:44 pm

GAINESVILLE, Va. – It is telling that with little prompting Tiger Woods can chronicle his dog days with such precision and brevity.

“Last year I was struggling through recovery from a [back] surgery. This year I’m still recovering and still trying to make a big major swing change,” he said on Tuesday at the Quicken Loans National. “Problems with my pattern and short game. I haven’t scored very well. I missed cuts.”

That about covers it.

As perplexing as it is to the amateur sports psychologists of the golf world who have taken to dissecting Woods’ every misstep, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Woods’ competitive swoon is even more concerning for the guy currently mired in the maze.

Although there are times when Woods appears detached from the mind-numbing minutia that has defined his last two competitive years – a run that has included more missed cuts (five) than top-25 finishes (two) and saw the former world No. 1 plummet all the way to 266th in the Official World Golf Ranking – there are other times when it is abundantly clear that he’s been paying attention.

On Tuesday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, where he will serve a dual role this week as the host with the most to prove, he was asked about his remaining schedule, which barring a dramatic turn of events the next three weeks will include just two more starts (this week’s Quicken Loans and the PGA Championship).

Quicken Loans National: Articles, photos and videos

Although outwardly Woods has appeared to be enduring his most recent struggles with grudging acceptance, the truth is the guy who won 14 majors is as competitive as ever and is simmering under the surface.

“It’s frustrating not to be able to win golf tournaments,” he said. “I’m not really there in contention very often and so that part is frustrating.

“But ...”

There’s always a qualifier. Maybe it’s a competitive firewall, a chance to distance himself from failure and maintain a modicum of confidence. Maybe it’s an honest assessment from a player who has been down this rabbit hole before and emerged with an armful of trophies.

“But I know how close it feels and I know that I just need a couple shots here and there and it turns the tide,” he said.

Woods has been through swing changes before, with Butch Harmon and again with Hank Haney and Sean Foley.

This time, however, feels and looks different. He never appeared like a man in desperate need of answers during those other transitions; he never missed cuts with such regularity, he never struggled so mightily to score.

It’s become an easy target to point out Woods will turn 40 in December and therefore is simply succumbing to age, but this has less to do with time than it does timing. Current swing consultant Chris Como and Woods crossed paths just as the player was rebounding from back surgery.

That roadblock, combined with a once all-world short game that abandoned him at the most inopportune moment, has magnified Woods’ troubles exponentially.

“I didn’t think it would take this long because I thought I would have my short game earlier,” Woods said. “You can cover up a lot of different things when you’re chipping and putting well. A lot of missteps throughout the years when I’ve changed coaches and techniques, my short game was all pretty good.”

It’s what prompted Woods’ self-imposed hiatus earlier this year after a particularly unsettling start at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

But the true wild card in this trail back to competitive relevancy has been Woods’ prolonged recovery from back surgery in April 2014. Although those who had similar procedures say the recovery period is normally a year, Woods returned to the Tour at last year’s Quicken Loans National less than three months after the surgery. He missed the cut at that event and it seemed to set the tone for the coming months.

“I came off back surgery, changed my golf swing and have done a polar 180 [degree] and recovering from back surgery,” Woods said. “You had those two together it’s a perfect storm and I’ve had to fight through both of those at the same time.”

For those in search of a paradigm of hope, consider that on Tuesday when Woods was asked his current health status and whether it is impacting his game he gave a definitive, albeit short, “no, not anymore.”

He also clung to the notion that this is not an entirely foreign path and that he’s gone through similar transformations throughout his career.

“I’ve gone through this and unfortunately sometimes I have to get a little bit worse before I can make a giant stride to get forward,” he said.

The “little bit worse” has lingered much longer then many, including Woods, expected. Whether his “giant stride” epiphany is one start away remains to be seen.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.